MRU raises eating disorder awareness
Julie Patton, Contributor
Mount Royal University (MRU) is educating students about eating disorders as a way to participate in the 2023 National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
The university is spreading awareness through an online informational site, a booth located on campus on Feb. 1, web and in-person seminars and a virtual bingo card of activities to help students tune in with their minds and bodies.
In a 2022 study conducted by the National College Health Assessment, it was found that seven per cent of Mount Royal’s students had been diagnosed with an eating disorder by a health care or mental health professional.
Calgary-based charity, Silver Linings Foundation states that eating disorders are the leading cause of death among mental illnesses. They add that due to diet culture, the “thin-ideal,” excessive social media use, and body dissatisfaction eating disorders can develop in anyone.
Michelle Chimenti, MRU’s mental health outreach coordinator, says the virtual bingo card is an opportunity for students to do all things that support wellbeing through both mental wellness and recreation.
“We don’t need to have all this guilt and shame surrounding movement and nutrients,” Chimenti says. “We want folks to know that movement should be enjoyable.”
Jackie Cooney, MRU Recreation’s fitness and customer experience supervisor, helped develop the virtual bingo card. She says it’s an opportunity to think about movement differently.
“We’re trying to break down those barriers,” she says. “There’s so many different ways to be active… I know that some of the spaces we have [at recreation] can be intimidating, we’re just really trying to make it a more inclusive environment.”
Cooney encourages students that are interested in being active, but not necessarily in the gym, to attempt different activities offered at recreation such as snowshoeing, the obstacle course and the walking track.
Chimenti says there is no guilt and shame for those who suffer from any mental illness, including eating disorders. She believes the stigmas surrounding mental illness are something society is still working to break.
“Whatever behavior, whatever response, or coping mechanism someone is using, we’re not saying that the coping mechanism is the problem, we’re saying that there’s stress happening. How you responded is probably a very natural way to do it. We’re just trying to see if we can find some more sustainable options,” says Chimenti.
Chimenti also encourages people to continue spreading awareness and having conversations around eating disorders even after Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
“We have to analyze our own biases as well,” Chimenti adds. “I need to make sure I’m not projecting fatphobia. I need to make sure that I’m not projecting restrictive or controlling behaviors, or guilt on other people’s intake or the way they move or anything like that.”
Cooney includes that reflecting on your unconscious bias is an important step.
“I think sometimes people aren’t even aware that they have a bias, you know, people need to reflect on how their reactions are or what their wording is,” says Cooney. “It’s hard not to have those unconscious biases and I think breaking down those barriers and really doing your own self work [is important to] making sure that you’re not projecting on other people.”
Both Chimenti and Cooney encourage students to look into additional resources if they believe themselves or a friend to have an eating disorder.
The Wellness and Recreation Services at MRU are happy to support and guide students struggling with mental health illnesses.
Chimenti appreciates the work and recommends students to look into the continued work of everyone in MRU Cougars Athletics and Recreation and organizations such as the Calgary Silver Linings Foundation, National Eating Disorder Information Centre, Eating Disorder Support Network of Alberta (EDSNA), and the EDSNA webinar presented on Feb. 1 with Eating Disorder Support Network of Alberta’s Acting Executive Director Angie Mellen and Social Worker Mo Bamuwagun: Eating Disorders and the Black Community- A Brief Overview and Discussion.